Graduate Fellow

Evaluating patterns and trends in insular body size evolution

PI(s): Paul Durst (Duke University)
Start Date: 23-Aug-2010
End Date: 10-Dec-2010
Keywords: biogeography, meta-analysis, life histories

Islands, as test tubes for evolution, are an important source of information about the factors influencing evolutionary processes. One of the most recognizable processes on islands is the tendency for mainland species to undergo dramatic body size changes. Although originally noted for mammals, there are now examples of insular size change in reptiles, birds, insects and even plants. A wide variety of hypotheses have been put forth to explain this trend, but previous studies have often focused on single explanatory variables within a narrow taxonomic group, making it difficult to make generalizations about the underlying processes resulting in this change. The aim of my project is to take a broader approach to the question, taking into account multiple factors and multiple taxonomic groups to develop a more inclusive approach to the study of insular body size evolution. To determine the generality and strength of patterns seen in insular size change across taxa, I will review the primary literature and conduct a phylogenetically-controlled meta-analysis. Then, to look more closely at the factors influencing size change, I will utilize classification trees, an increasingly popular method in ecology, to examine insular size trends in mammals, one of the better studied island groups.

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